Frank Tuttle

The Broken Bell

Chapter One

Babysitting banshees is a nerve-wracking business.

And after a morning with Buttercup, my nerves were not only wracked but wrecked and possibly wreaked as well.

Buttercup is all of four feet tall. She weighs forty pounds soaking wet with a big rock in each hand. And despite what you’ve heard about banshees, there isn’t a mean bone in her tiny body.

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy a bit of old-fashioned banshee mischief when Mama Hog and Gertriss are away and there’s no one but Uncle Markhat to play with.

Buttercup’s favorite game is to make that banshee hop-step that transports her from place to place without the trouble and fuss of walking through the space between her and, for instance, the top of my desk.

Hop, appear, giggle, hop. From desktop to floor and back again, all in the space of a blink, with my good black hat clutched in her tiny banshee hands.

“That’s my good hat, sweetie.” I put on my most winning talking-to-the-kids smile. Darla claims it looks more like a grimace, as though someone was stepping on my toes, but it’s the best I can do. “Let’s find something else to play with.”

Hop blur, hop blur. She went from floor to desktop, vanished, poked me in the small of my back and was gone when I turned.

Shoes came tap-tap-tapping right up to my door. Not men’s shoes, but female ones.

They stopped. The lady knocked. No hesitation, no furtiveness.

Buttercup appeared at my side. She put my hat in my hand and clung to my leg with what I fervently hoped was purely platonic fervor.

She might be tiny, and she might be a thousand years old, but I’m very nearly a married man I’m told.

“In the back. Get under the covers. Don’t make a sound ’til I come get you.”

Buttercup doesn’t speak much Kingdom, but she understands it well enough. She nodded once and was gone. I heard my bedsprings squeak through the door Buttercup hadn’t bothered to open.

I put my hat on the rack-right above the new tan raincoat Darla had left there the day before.

Funny. The hat was a gift from Darla too. I wondered how long it would be before my entire wardrobe was the product of Darla’s keen eye for my clothes.

The lady at my door knocked again. Three-leg Cat rose, arched his back and yawned silently before sauntering toward the door, eager to slip outside.

I forced a smile and obliged cat and woman.

Darla stood at my door, grinning. Three-leg dashed between her ankles, circling her once and issuing a rough loud purr before darting away at a three-legged gallop.

“Mama swears you’ve never risen before noon.” Darla’s brown eyes glinted. She was wearing something high-necked and purple, and the one hand I could see was wearing a silk glove. “Are you sure you’re decent at this unholy hour?”

I made a show of looking at my elegantly rumpled attire. “I seem to be clothed, though by whom I don’t recall. Do come in, Miss Tomas. And bring that picnic basket with you.”

Darla glided in, and the heavenly smells that wafted up from the basket she carried came with her.

The basket wound up on my desk while we greeted each other. Clever devil that I am, I managed to snag a sticky bun from the basket and bring it up and around Darla so that I had a bite ready when we finished the good morning kiss.

Darla turned and laughed and took a bite and then we sat.

I chewed and swallowed. The bun was hot and sweet and perfectly baked.

I took another bite and lifted an eyebrow.

“So, what brings you out with the wagons, Darla dearest?” I asked. “It’s so early the vampires haven’t taken to their crypts yet.”

One of the many things I like about Darla is her utter lack of pretense.

“I’m here to ply you with pastries and my feminine wiles. I want to hire you, Mister Markhat. I want you to find someone for me.”

I choked down my sticky bun. All the play was gone from her eyes, all the mirth from her voice. She had her hands in her lap and she was not smiling. I’d only seen her do this once before.

“Tell me.”

“My friend Tamar is getting married. I believe I’ve mentioned that? Big wedding, rich families, we need to get you a new suit because you’re my date?”

I nodded. I recalled the name, was fuzzy on the date, was secretly hoping against hope something would come up and I’d be spared the spectacle of watching a masked priest drone on about the holy state of matrimony.

I’d seen quite a bit of the state of matrimony lately. Its fickle nature kept my partner Gertriss and I in business. Holy wouldn’t be my first choice in describing anything matrimonial.

“Tamar’s intended is a man named Carris. Carris Lethway. You might know the name.”

I whistled. “Lethway as in the Lethways who have the big house up on the Hill?”

“The very same.”

“I’ll need a fancy suit.”

“I hope so. But we won’t be shopping for one today, dearest, because Carris has gone missing.”

I’m not as crass as many claim. I didn’t make cracks about runaway grooms and quick trips on fast horses to isolated villas down South.


“His family claims he’s out West, on family business. That’s a lie, Markhat. Tamar would know. Carris wouldn’t have just left without a word this close to the wedding.”

I just nodded.

“They’re rich. Has the Watch gotten involved?”

“Tamar went to them. They went to the Lethways. They were told Carris was fine, that he was away on business. The family hinted that Carris changed his mind about marrying Tamar.”

“Could that be true?”

“No. It could not.” Darla looked me in the eye. “I’ve known Tamar for years. She’s neither deluded nor hysterical. Something has happened to Carris, or someone is keeping him away against his will. Will you bring him home? For me?”

“For you, my sweet, I’ll try.” I moved the picnic basket aside and brought a writing pad and a sharp pencil out of my desk.

“You know what I need. Names, dates, all of it.”

A tiny hand reached up, and a sticky bun vanished. Darla squealed and grabbed at the air and managed to snag Buttercup and haul her giggling onto her lap.

“Babysitting again?”

“It’s all I do these days.” I put pencil to paper while Darla tickled Buttercup. “Whenever you’re ready.”

It took a while, but I got it all. At one point, Buttercup put on my hat and imitated me stomping across the floor with her diminutive banshee hands clenched at her back. Darla doubled over in laughter.

I’m surrounded, I tell you, and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.

Darla left for work. Buttercup curled up on my unmade bed for a nap moments after.

I put butt in chair, left my door propped open and watched Rannit amble past. I couldn’t chase down Darla’s

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